Monday, July 28, 2014

On Celebrating FIVE Years of Mercy

Five years always felt like an eternity away to me. In fact, I remember dreaming up one, five, and ten years plans back inside the walls of that big white house. I tried to find them, but couldn't. It doesn't really matter anyhow, because I am certain these five years have looked so different from the plan.

And I am so thankful. In tears thankful, actually.

I never planned to be a girl in need of mercy [or Mercy Ministries, for that matter]. But the truth is, I've always needed it.

Once you were not a people, but now you're God's people.
Once you had not received mercy, but now you have. [1 Peter 2:10]

Had my life been guided by the course of my own plan, I would be a wondering soul still in need of mercy.

In fact, that about sums up my life prior to walking through those doors of Mercy Ministries. Although, I don't really know that I knew just how lost I was or how needy. God used those six months to reveal Himself to me in a way I never thought was possible for "a girl like me." Surely I had out-sinned the cross. I would never be like the pastor's wife or the faithful grandma in the back pew every week. Forget about being a Proverbs 31 gal, I could barely keep myself presentable for an hour--more or less dream of doing any of that. I never really believed He could change my life like He had people around me. It wasn't even about whether He would of not--it was that He couldn't. I was the impossible statistic with the mile-long list of all the reasons I'd never function as a normal person.

It was that mindset which fed the sin cycle that had me on a perpetually spinning sphere through those dark years. And it was moving so fast, the immanent pain of falling just kept me gripping on tighter. And spinning faster. The more I hung on that I might preserve my own life, the more death I knew. Until the spinning nearly stopped and death knocked ever so closely. After that, I knew I wasn't just a perpetually spinning person. There had to be something (or someone) spinning me and now slowing me, so to speak. I knew a lot about God. But I didn't know the redeemer of my soul.

That's about when I came through those doors of Mercy Ministries. And for the first month or so, I fought hard to jump back on that spinning wheel. It was what I'd known for over a decade, after all.

I could identify more with the girl wondering and in need of mercy then the mercy being offered to me itself. 

Lucky for us, His word calls us "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."[1 Peter 2:9]

This fifth year of life after Mercy has taught me His plans are worth putting all of my trust in. Even when that means abandoning mine. Sometimes, that doesn't make much sense to us. Other times it's easier.

Either way, He chose me?! In my ugly, sinful, prideful mess of a self--He called me beloved, chosen, royal, holy. Then He decided to give His son in place of me that I might know Him intimately as Christ's blood washed out my sin that once separated me from Him. I deserved death and He gave me life. It's a choice of course, as when a gift is offered we're not forced to take it. But by much grace, I received it and He caused it. Of course, why stop there? Then He said nothing I could ever do would separate me from His love.

And that summed up the work Christ solidified in my heart through my time at Mercy---nothing would ever separate me from His love. I could never be too screwed up to out-sin the blood of Christ shed on that cross. I didn't have to starve or inflict pain upon myself to atone for my poor decisions because His work was enough to cover past and even future sin.

Had it been up to me, I would have left that place without ever knowing such truth.

I'm so glad that wasn't God's plan. And I'm so humbled by the men and women He surrounded me with that fought and interceded on my behalf all those years.

This fifth year of life after Mercy has led me from India back to Arkansas where I've spent the past year finishing my bachelors in social sciences [and finally got that degree!], nannying for some precious boys [to be joined by a baby sister this fall], hanging out with international friends in our awesome Cline house, and experiencing the sweet blessing of an awesome body of Christ at University Baptist Church. The sweetest of parts of this past year were none that I ever dreamed up. My plans would have led somewhere far different--and yet again I remember why it's so sweet to trust in Jesus!

Next year I'm headed back to my hometown [and home to Mercy!] of St. Louis where I am accepted into the accelerated BSN program at Goldfarb School of Nursing. At least that's where God has led thus far, but I'm learning to grip it all a little more loosely these days! And when it comes to dreaming dreams, I very much desire to be a wife and momma one day. And until then [or perhaps all at once] I still believe God's leading me overseas long-term, just whenever He gives the go-ahead.

But I'm realizing too, the here and now is really quite sweet.

Before we know it, we will be with Him in glory and I want these hours and days He is giving to make me more of a sojourner on this soil and a proclaimer of  the glory to come. With a whole lotta grace, I hope to see more men and women in need of mercy find it in knowing Him for the first time. Any role He allows me to play in that is the greatest gift I know. 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Chirst, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 5:10-11]

If you feel like reminiscing with me, what a journey...
On The Day I Arrived at Mercy

On Celebrating ONE Year of Mercy

On Celebrating TWO Years of Mercy

On Celebrating THREE Years of Mercy

On Celebrating FOUR Years of Mercy

Monday, July 14, 2014

For the Fatherless Generation: On Receiving a Gift [From My Dad]

My dad is drinking again. Next month would have landed him two years sober. More noteably for me, that two year mark was the line in the sand which declared his distance from the bottle significant enough for me to once again pursue relationship with him. Go figure, so near to that time he gets snatched away by it all yet again. 

Yet Jesus is ever sweeter. 

My dad may never be able to be a huge part of my life. And the pain surrounding that neglect and abuse may never fully cease as long as my feet walk this soil. But one day, glory will seep into even the deepest crevasses and every tear will cease forevermore. That doesn't lift the weight, but it sure does offer hope in an otherwise sucky situation to which so many of this fatherless generation can empathize.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. [Hebrews 6:19]

He anchors me with that hope. And this week, His grace extended beyond an eternal promise. He gave me a few earthly anchors too.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, my dad brought four of us into this world. 

And those three who came before me, well they gave me Jesus.

Fast forward a number of years and here we are--in these beautiful black hills of South Dakota tucked away in a couple of cabins in the side of a lush hill where the air is crisp and the mountains declare His glory in a way words never could. For the most part, we desire Jesus and love each other in light of that. In spite of the unspoken and piercing hurts we each relive as we recall childhood memories and adult disapointments, just look at us here right now.

Pure glory of Christ alone.

I want to freeze time and stuff these moments into a jar, only to be popped open in the dark and desolate seasons of life where those daunting daddy-daughter moments are raw.

What gift do you see today, sister? You may search, but He is the giver of all things glorious.

As I sit and watch my oldest brother flopping around with my nephew on the tube in the wake of the boat, the crowd belly laughing at their shenanigans, I just want to soak in it. I used to be so angry with my dad for robbing me of such moments. But today, I just saw a God who redeems with every goofy trick they tried. The anger has faded and my eyes see differently now.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. [1 Peter 4:12-13]

My brother isn't perfect, but he is a dad to my niece and nephew. He is there and active and loves them unashamedly. I know they would never doubt it either. Our dad has fallen short but the Lord never has. Watching my big brother points me straight towards the face of our redeemer, the one who is enough in our lacking. I've seen both of my brothers and sister flesh out lives that testify to that.


One brother couldn't be here this week as he is home with my nephews and sis-in-law, one being an itty bitty baby nephew not quite ready for a family trek across the county. But I got to soak up a few snuggles and moments before coming here, which also left me in awe of a faithful Jesus. The older of my nephews was attached to his daddy like glue the whole time. He adores him. We bribed him to take a picture with his Aunt Courtney and he was smiling super big--only because after the picture was over, he knew he got to go to the park with dad. Do ya'll see this redemption? My heart overflows with gratitude. These brothers, just trudging through the thick of it and raising their boys to love Jesus and others. It matters more then anything else, I think.


Last night beneath the beating rays of sun, quietly out on the porch my brother-in-law began to divulge the details surrounding my dad's decent into the bottle over the past several months. He shared a lot that made my emotions swing. But one specific story has stuck with me, and probably always will.  My brothers had sensed dad was drinking for some time. After several unsuccessful conversations, my bro-in-law decided to show up at dad's place unannounced. He had my nephew with him.

They went in to say hi and my bro-in-law found the fresh bottle of VO tucked away nicely in the trash within minutes. He confronted dad about the direction he was headed. He talked about the straight & narrow road verses the wide one--two roads to choose from but each with devastatingly contrasting destinations. He just told dad the choice was his--but it was indeed a choice, and one he had to man up and make for himself.

Through this conversation, my nephew is there and listening to his dad and grandfather go back and forth. My brother-in-law says he never wants to hide the truth behind panes of pretty color when the rust and moth are destroying from within, so to speak. He wants his son to know the weight of the choices we make and the blessings and curses which pour from each. And he didn't say it, but he wants my nephew to choose life, to know Christ and make him known--to live a different life then the generations prior, including that of his grandfather.

He doesn't have to say it though--he just lives and teaches his son to live like that too.

I love this. Not that every one of those conversations should include little ears, but what a blessing my nephew gets to know the truth (even the hard truth) and by God's grace live freer then his grandpa.

Alcohol has never once looked good on my dad. And while I need not be enslaved by fear of any extreme, I never wanted to see my life mimic after his. I pray by God's grace, these conversations give my nephew the same vision. I pray they spur him towards Jesus and righteousness, not by his strength but the spirit.

Out of my dad's wake has come four kiddos and seven grandchildren. No matter what decisions he makes, these are lives that will multiply and go forth, and by God's grace, they will be all for His glory.

If we fail to testify to that sort of redemption, we so easily victimize ourselves and forget who this is really about.

JESUS is worthy. I'm going to fight my flesh differently and fall more quickly to certain desires and that will probably always have a lot to do with my dad. But Jesus is worthy. He came before me and suffered greatly in the flesh, so I can arm myself with a similar way of thinking in the midst of trials, so as to live in this flesh a slave no longer to my own passions but for the will of God.

We need only to entrust our souls to a faithful creator. [1 Peter 3]

I'm nothing awesome and I know my siblings would say likewise. But Jesus is. And in our weaknesses He is ever faithful. My dad gave me these brothers and sister and in-laws who have filled in in ways which our dad never could. What a gift.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To HIM be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 5:10-11]

It's coming friends. He is coming. So let us all anchor down into the hope by which He's called us His. It's far too easy to forget, so let's speak often of a God who redeems that others might know the sweetness of Him too. By God's grace, even my dad.

So lift your eyes from the hurt and heartache sister. Fixate them on the One who redeems. Look for it--there may be no wake of generations to come apart from you--but that's okay, start there. He REDEEMS, yes even you!

Hear the Savior say, thy faith indeed is small, child of mercy watch and pray, find in my thine all in all!

Blessed by these brothers who stand in the gap and pave the way. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Rainbows and Redemption

I remember like it was yesterday. It was the dead of winter and my first time to fly on a plane [that I could recall anyhow]. My best friend had spent a semester across the country at that point, and seeing her face to face couldn't come quick enough! I never thought much about seeing mountains, but as the plane began its decent and we came down below the clouds, my eyes locked into them like glue. I have always been a beach girl--but I had never seen any beauty like this before.

While the flight itself brought much excitement, seeing those vast, snow-capped ranges was unlike any of my wildest imaginations. Captivating, majestic. It was bold evidence of a creator. And by His grace, He spoke to me in the moments to follow.

I'd been in a psalm above the clouds, begging Him to use this time away from he mundane to renew for me vision for the future. That was [and still is] the hardest battle, right? What awesome thing will you let me do for your kingdom after I endure this boring, mundane season of school and work? Then you see these mountains and you remember just how great He is, right there in the day to day. I'd come out of a hard season and so desperately desired Jesus. I ended up in Isaiah in those final moments and this passage He engraved ever deeply upon my heart, a promise between He and I of what is to come. A covenant of sorts, THE hope and future He called me to.

I remember the slow-mo tears of gratitude, de-boarding the plane, hugging my best friend and driving through those mountains which continue to leave me in awe. I remember the bliss I could not contain as I tried to articulate how He'd just spoken to me--how I hoped so desperately this was the real deal, that I'd really heard from Him and fruit would bear. She smiled at me and nodded her head, I'm pretty sure. Before she dyed my hair black and encouraged some straight-across bangs to get me to that ex-murder look, of course.

So flash-forward FIVE years and just last week I find myself winding up and down those very same mountains through which He first spoke to me. I'm shedding tears in the quiet of the rear-seat as His faithfulness stands far firmer then these feeble knees of mine.

Those feet have touched states and nations. They've trekked through aboriginal lands in the dead of Australia and walked with a sister from death to life there. I can only pray by His grace, she knows Him now. Those feet stomped over colorful papers and streamers as a parade of idol worshippers marched across the street ahead in the middle of rural India. Those beautiful feet then returned to those tiny unreached villages with good news of salvation and ran with goats that provided income, sustained this sweaty body as it stood before a classroom of children each day, and walked from one house to another in the dark of night, sharing of the One who is and was and is to come. Our prayers were so bold and full of faith there. There was much rejoicing as these feet stood in the church and rested among the youth--enabling the teaching of several Psalms. Back home, these feet run after three littles and host lots of events, all that more might know Him. These feet get to rest as the Word is studied every week with the nations right in my little town. These feet humble me.

Back then, in those days when milk satisfied, I remember contemplating His reign. Was He really greater then all my screw ups and sin which still bound me? Would He ever make me feel clean? What could He possibly ever use my mess of a self for? How could someone like me bring Him glory?

Does He really reign?

I got to visit two sweet sisters in Virginia this past week, which led me into those mountains. We had such a sweet time at the beach and that car ride through those majestic mountains at the end of the trip brought much confirmation of how faithfully He really does reign. In a weekend with these sisters, one who traveled to India alongside me and came out still loving me. And the other who has stood the test of time--seven years of friendship now, years that have led us down paths we could have never foreseen but here we are in these mountains--proclaiming and weeping over a faithful Jesus.

All of this circulating through my mind and then all of a sudden--a rainbow. TWO rainbows appear. They lingered well over half an hour too. As I recounted God's covenant with Noah sealed with the bow in the sky, I couldn't help but melt over this covenant I believe God spoke over me five years prior, and here He is so faithfully reminding me---and with a rainbow over these mountains. Duh. Why not?

The lands & nations beneath these beautiful feet have taught me more of His reign then I could ever articulate back to them. Jesus makes these feet beautiful. 

Our God reigns, ya'll! He really does. These mountains shout it and these feet get to proclaim it.

He redeems. He reigns greater. He makes the dead come to life. I've seen it. I've lived it. I believe my God reigns.

By His grace, I am blessed to lean on these beautiful feet to continue to follow His reign in my life, whatever lands or peoples or mountains He has set before me. Here I am, send me!

[next up: nursing school--a mountain of epic heights, over which He still reigns greater]. Bring it on.

& a few favorites because these sisters are the life-giving kind